Fluoride Action Network

Presstek hit with $125k fine over ’06 leak at Mass. plant

Source: The Telegraph (Nashua) | Telegraph Staff
Posted on February 29th, 2008
Industry type: Chemical Industry

Hudson-based Presstek faces $125,000 in environmental fines for a 2006 chemical spill at its South Hadley, Mass., plant. The spill evacuated neighbors within a mile radius and caused next-day school closings.

Presstek is accused of violating federal Environmental Protection Agency laws when it failed to report the hazardous chemical spill Oct. 30, 2006, according to an EPA statement released Thursday.

“Timely reporting is especially important for facilities such as this one, where toxic materials are stored at a relatively close proximity to a residential area,” Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, said in a statement.

The chemical, hydrofluoric acid, made its way outdoors through a ventilation fan at the Presstek facility, the EPA reports. An anonymous caller saw the plume and reported it to the South Hadley Police Department.

In the event of a spill, all U.S. companies are supposed to contact the government-run National Response Center.

About 90 residents were evacuated after approximately 750 pounds of the chemical made it into the air around 8 p.m. As a precautionary measure, local schools were closed the next day.

Presstek, which makes digital-printing equipment, did not return a call seeking comment.

The EPA’s complaint, resulting in a $125,678 fine, also says the company violated the Clean Air Act by failing to design and maintain a safe facility and failing to minimized the consequences of an accidental chemical release.

Insufficient safety controls and operator error likely caused the spill, according to the EPA.

The plant was closed for about a week, but resumed shipping products Nov. 7, 2006.

Presstek took over operations at the South Hadley plant in 2004, when it bought Precision Lithograining Corp., one of the largest independent plate manufacturers in North America, for $13 million in cash.

The move came as part of a company business plan to focus on growth since new products and acquisitions.

But in the past two years or so, Presstek has faced financial losses, a shake-up in senior management, a class-action lawsuit from investors, formal probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission probes and two Nasdaq delisting warnings.